The Beatles did not limit their creative endeavors to music.
Most fans can recall the first time they saw one of the Fab Four’s films — their cinematic debut A Hard Day’s Night arrived in 1964, followed closely by 1965’s Help! Then came Magical Mystery Tour (1967), Yellow Submarine (1968) and Let It Be (1970).
The below excerpt from Act Naturally: The Beatles on Film by Steve Matteo, which will be available in the U.S. on May 5 and in the U.K. in July, examines the lead up to the London premiere of A Hard Day’s Night.
On Monday, July 6, 1964, Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s West End was a scene of pandemonium the likes of which London hadn’t witnessed since the day the Second World War ended. On this hot summer night, an invasion that had been percolating in the north of England for years finally came to a full boil. The Beatles’ debut film was having its world premiere at the London Pavilion, replacing Tom Jones, the film that heralded the critical and even more importantly commercial arrival of the new British cinema explosion.
The Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — had burst onto the international pop music scene. Only a few short years ago, they were scruffy young lads from Liverpool, the industrial port city of the north of England, in love with rock ‘n’ roll, with faint dreams of stardom. The current lineup began with John Lennon asking Paul McCartney to join his group the Quarrymen, McCartney bringing in Harrison, with Lennon’s art-school friend Stuart Sutcliffe joining and Pete Best settling in as their drummer, after many held that position in the group. Sutcliffe eventually dropped out to stay in Hamburg and pursue a career in art. When the group finally signed to Parlophone Records, Best was sacked, and Starr took his place.
From their earliest days as the Quarrymen, various lineups that included Lennon, McCartney and Harrison slowly ascended in Liverpool and most importantly honed their sound in the unforgiving club circuit in Hamburg, Germany. They were approached by the scion of a wealthy Liverpool family — Brian Epstein, who ran one of the family’s NEMS record stores — to manage them. He helped them sharpen their image, provided much-needed organization and direction and most importantly secured them a recording contract. Starring in a motion picture and being the biggest pop music phenomenon in the world followed two No. 1 albums, three U.K. No. 1 singles and raucous concerts, defined by hordes of young screaming fans (mostly girls) caught up in the hysteria of what came to be defined as Beatlemania.
It was the London Pavilion Theatre where, eight years previously, Rock Around the Clock premiered as perhaps the first successful rock ‘n’ roll teen exploitation movie. The venerable old theater had opened in 1885, began presenting musicals in 1912 and first started screening movies on Sept. 5, 1934, with Alexander Korda’s The Private Life of Don Juan. Two years later, it became almost exclusively the showcase cinema for films from UA, the same company releasing A Hard Day’s Night. In October 1962, it hosted the debut of another UA film, and another significant British film of the 1960s, Dr. No, the first James Bond movie. The Pavilion would host the premieres of all the Beatles’ theatrical films, except Magical Mystery Tour (which debuted on television), as well as premiere Richard Lester’s (the director of A Hard Day’s Night) How I Won the War, costarring John Lennon.
The four lads from Liverpool had taken the world by storm by 1964, solidifying their position with a landmark appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York the previous February. Their newfound importance to Britain was confirmed by making their film debut a prestigious Royal World Premiere charity event, hosted by Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, and her husband Antony Armstrong-Jones, the Earl of Snowdon, sponsored by The Variety Club of Great Britain to aid the Dockland Settlements and the Variety Club Heart Fund.
Although nearly 35 years old, the princess fit right in with the young Beatles and the rebellious, youthful spirit of the times. The same was the case for Lord Snowdon, who ran with the fast London set and didn’t let his marriage to the queen’s sister interfere with his extracurricular activity. While the Beatles, especially Paul McCartney, were clearly nervous at their London film premiere, the Armstrong-Joneses were clearly thrilled to have escaped the prison of Kensington Palace for the evening.
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